Commentary

Hiroki Kuroda's future still murky

It's hard to say whether pitcher has seen his last days in L.A. as trade deadline nears

Updated: July 28, 2011, 8:48 AM ET
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- I have no idea what will become of Hiroki Kuroda in the days ahead. I can't tell you with any confidence whether we were watching him pitch in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform for the final time Wednesday night against the Colorado Rockies, which -- appropriately enough, given the way this season has gone for Kuroda -- ended in a 3-1 loss in front of 29,976 at Dodger Stadium.

I get the sense -- call it a vibe, if you will -- that he really doesn't want to be traded, and given the full no-trade rights in his contract, he won't be unless he agrees to it. Kuroda chose the Dodgers four years ago over three other clubs, two of which were offering him longer-term contracts. He is comfortable here, comfortable with the city, comfortable with his teammates, comfortable being part of an organization that isn't all that comfortable for a lot of people these days.

But there also are rumors, plenty of them, about potential destinations. As Kuroda was pitching to the Rockies, the hottest one had the New York Yankees zeroing in on him, although one source told me Kuroda is only one of about four pitchers the Yankees are watching closely.

Hiroki Kuroda
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesIt's thought that Hiroki Kuroda feels comfortable in L.A. for many reasons, which makes trading him complicated.

"First of all, I haven't really decided on anything, so I can't really give you a definitive answer," Kuroda said through interpreter Kenji Nimura after Wednesday's game. "Until today, I have been wearing a Dodgers uniform, and I'm playing here to win. I have heard a few things leading up to the trading deadline, so I have thought about what might happen. I will talk to my agent, and we will go from there."

You hate to start talking about a guy in the past tense before he is actually, officially gone, but what the heck. Kuroda has enough of a track record with the Dodgers, 3½ years' worth, to look back upon.

I remember the first time I ever typed his name. Don't remember the date, but it was shortly after the end of the 2007 season, maybe even before the Dodgers had replaced manager Grady Little with Joe Torre.

I seem to recall being the first to report that several members of general manager Ned Colletti's staff had gone to Japan at various times that summer to scout a veteran right-hander for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp who was about to become a free agent and intended to come to the U.S.

A few weeks later, we were all at a heavily attended news conference with Kuroda having accepted a three-year, $35.3 million deal and saying he planned to move his entire family to the area so his children could experience a different culture.

Since then, Kuroda's time with the Dodgers has been a whirlwind, including two shutouts as a "rookie"; the only Dodgers victory in the 2008 National League Championship Series, in a game in which he nearly came to blows with Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino; an Opening Day start the following spring; a line drive off the right side of his head later in 2009 that could have ended his season, or possibly ended a lot more, but ultimately only sidelined him for a few weeks.

And then, last winter, despite the fact they had gotten a grand total of 28 wins from Kuroda over the life of his first contract -- that averages out to $1.26 million per victory -- the Dodgers (47-57) re-signed him, to a one-year, $12 million deal, and for that second investment, they have gotten all of six wins.

Much of that, of course, can't be laid at the feet of Kuroda (6-13), who has suffered this year from the same affliction that primarily is responsible for the Dodgers remaining in fourth place in the NL West, 13 games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants, that being a lack of offensive support.

In Kuroda's 21 starts this season, the Dodgers have averaged 2.8 runs. In his 13 losses, that number shrinks to 2.1. And if this was Kuroda's swan song, it was the perfect sendoff -- the Dodgers never really came close to scoring against Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook (2-5), their only run coming on a one-out, ninth-inning homer by Rod Barajas off closer Huston Street.

Nevertheless, Street hung on for his 27th save.

Meanwhile, Kuroda's palindromic career record of 34-43 with the Dodgers and his lifetime ERA of 3.50 seem utterly incompatible.

My gut tells me that Kuroda is staying, that either the Yankees and Dodgers won't be able to agree on a deal or Kuroda won't approve one, and that for the time being, he will continue to take the mound in a Dodgers uniform every fifth day and try to pitch a shutout, which is about the only way he can seem to win pitching for this club.

But there is one thing you should keep in mind: July 31, that all-important date that annually leads to so much speculation and rumormongering, is only baseball's non-waiver trade deadline. Players like Kuroda, meaning veterans with expensive contracts, always clear waivers after that deadline passes, because any team that puts in a claim on them is responsible for the remainder of their salary in full.

That means Kuroda still could be traded before Aug. 31. So it's entirely conceivable that he and the Dodgers could be going through all this again a month from now.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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